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Bullying Bosses

After a long weekend, Kara stared at her computer with a sick feeling in her stomach: her boss had added her as a friend on Facebook. Kara did not feel particularly close to her boss, nor did she like the idea of mixing her social life with her work. Still, it was her boss. Kara reluctantly accepted her boss as a Facebook friend. Little did she know her troubles were only beginning.
Kara’s boss soon began using her online information to manipulate her work life. It began with inappropriate innuendos regarding Facebook photos. Eventually, Kara’s boss manipulated her work hours, confronted her both on and off Facebook, and repeatedly called Kara’s cell phone questioning her whereabouts. “My boss was a gossiping, domineering, contriving megalomaniac, and her behavior dramatically intensified when she used Facebook to pry,” Kara said. Eventually, Kara was forced to quit. “I feel like I got my freedom back and can breathe again,” she said.
Although many individuals recall bullies from elementary school days, some are realizing bullies can exist in the workplace, too. In a recent poll, 37 percent of employees report being victims of a bullying boss. And these bullies don’t pick on just the weakest in the group; any subordinate may fall prey. As Kara found, bullying is not limited to male bosses: 40 percent of bullies are women, and women are their targets 70 percent of the time.
How does bullying affect employee motivation and behavior? Surprisingly, though victims may feel less motivated to go to work every day, they continue performing their required job duties. However, some are less motivated to perform extra-role or citizenship behaviors. Helping others, speaking positively about the organization, and going beyond the call of duty are reduced as a result of bullying. According to Dr. Bennett Tepper, fear may be the reason many workers continue to perform. And not all individuals reduce their citizenship behaviors. Some continue to engage in extra-role behaviors to make themselves look better than their colleagues. Other victims of bullying may be motivated to actively retaliate against their bullying supervisor, or engage in acts of workplace withdrawal.
What should you do if your boss is bullying you? Don’t necessarily expect help from co-workers. As Emelise Aleandri, an actress and producer from New York who left her job after being bullied, stated, “Some people were afraid to do anything. But others didn’t mind what was happening at all, because they wanted my job.” Moreover, according to Dr. Michelle Duffy of the University of Kentucky, co-workers often blame victims of bullying in order to resolve their own guilt. “They do this by wondering whether maybe the person deserved the treatment, that he or she has been annoying, or lazy, [or] did something to earn it,” she says.
Sources: Based on M. Wilding, “Is Your Boss Your Friend or Foe?” Sydney Morning Herald (May 19, 2009), pp. 1–3; C. Benedict, “The Bullying Boss,”The New York Times (June 22, 2004), p. F1; and S. Thau and M. S. Mitchell, “Self-Gain or Self-Regulation Impairment? Tests of Competing Explanations of the Supervisor Abuse and Employee Deviance Relationship Through Perceptions of Distributive Justice,” Journal of Applied Psychology95, (2010), pp. 1009–1031.
How does workplace bullying violate the rules of organizational justice?
What aspects of motivation might workplace bullying reduce? For example, are there likely to be effects on an employee’s self-efficacy? If so, what might those effects be? Do you think bullying would motivate you to retaliate?
If you were a victim of workplace bullying, what steps would you take to try to reduce its occurrence? What strategies would be most effective? Least effective? What would you do if one of your colleagues were a victim?
What factors do you believe contribute to workplace bullying? Are bullies a product of the situation, or do they have flawed personalities? What situations and what personality factors might contribute to the presence of bullies?

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